Skip to content

Using the iPad as a ‘Therapeutic Tool’ for Persons With Disabilities

Since its debut in April 2010, the iPad has become a popular therapeutic tool for people with disabilities of all kinds, though no one keeps track of how many are used this way, and studies are just getting under way to test its effectiveness, which varies widely depending on diagnosis.

A speech pathologist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center uses text-to-speech applications to give patients a voice. Christopher Bulger, a 16-year-old in Chicago who injured his spine in a car accident, used an iPad to surf the Internet during the early stages of his rehabilitation, when his hands were clenched into fists. “It was nice because you progressed from the knuckle to the finger to using more than one knuckle on the screen,” he said.

Parents of autistic children are using applications to teach them basic skills, like brushing teeth and communicating better.

For a mainstream technological device like the iPad to have been instantly embraced by the disabled is unusual. It is far more common for items designed for disabled people to be adapted for general use, like closed-captioning on televisions in gyms or GPS devices in cars that announce directions. Also, most mainstream devices do not come with built-ins like the iPad’s closed-captioning, magnification and audible readout functions — which were intended to keep it simple for all users, but also help disabled people.

The iPad is also, generally speaking, less expensive than computers and other gadgets specifically designed to help disabled people speak, read or write. While insurers usually do not cover the cost of mobile devices like the iPad because they are not medical equipment, in some cases they will pay for the applications that run on them.

Glenda Watson Hyatt, a blogger from British Columbia and woman with cerebral palsy, said that when she was having trouble chatting with friends at a bar recently, she pulled out her iPad to help communicate and felt normal. “People were drawn to it because it was a ‘recognized’ or ‘known’ piece of technology,” she wrote in a blog post reviewing the device.

For Owen Cain, whose disease is physical, not mental, the iPad has limitations, too. Moving his finger all the way across the keypad remains a challenge, and makes writing difficult. He has been experimenting with a variety of applications — Proloquo2Go, which allows him to touch an icon that prompts the device to speak things like, “I need to go to the bathroom”; Math Magic, which helps him practice arithmetic; and Animal Match, a memory game.

When Owen was about 8 weeks old, his mother noticed his right arm drooping. It led to a crushing diagnosis: the motor-neuron disease known as spinal muscular atrophy Type 1. A 2003 New York Times article about spinal muscular atrophy said his parents had been told Owen would be “paralyzed for his life, which doctors predicted would last no more than about two years.”

Owen will turn 8 on Nov. 11. While his condition is not expected to worsen, he is extremely sensitive to infection and once nearly died of pneumonia; three specialized therapists and a nurse help keep him alive.

Though he cannot speak, his parents have taught him to read, write and do math. He has an impish sense of humor and a love of “Star Wars.” “He’s a normal child trapped in a not normal body,” said his father, Hamilton Cain, 45, a book editor.

Since he received the iPad, Owen has been trying to read books, and playing around with apps like Air Guitar. And, one day, he typed out on the keypad, “I want to be Han Solo for Halloween.”

For the full article from the NY Times, see: iPad Opens World

 

Member, National Disability Rights Network (NDRN)

New Jersey's designated protection and advocacy system for people with disabilities


Disability Rights New Jersey
210 S Broad Street, 3rd Floor
Trenton, New Jersey 08608
1.800.922.7233 (in NJ only) • 1.609.292.9742 (Voice)
1.609.777.0187 (Fax) • 1.609.633.7106 (TTY)
Email Us

Legal Disclaimer

DRNJ is an Equal Opportunity Employer and provides services to all persons with disabilities regardless of race, creed, religion, color, national origin, age, marital status, familial status, sex, sexual or affectional orientation, ancestry or disability. Any concerns regarding the agency’s compliance with these non-discrimination efforts may be brought to the attention of the Executive Director.

Viewers are encouraged to download and reproduce content from this website. When doing so, it is requested that you give appropriate credit to DRNJ.